Above and beyond the classroom

by Tom Akers correspondent

Above and Beyond The Classroom: A series focusing on teaching during a pandemic:

Cambridge Elementary PE teacher Melissa Sollenberger, Ms. S to her students has had to rise above and beyond every day for the past nine months; “The pandemic has changed the way I’ve taught PE for the last 17 years. Not only was it a learning experience for the kids, it was a big learning experience for me.”

Sollenberger, originally from Brimfield, Illinois has taught her entire career at Cambridge Elementary School, now in her eighteenth year of teaching physical education, she teaches kindergarten thru fifth grade along with coaching boys track. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education with a minor in Health.

Teaching PE during the pandemic has forced Ms S. to change her approach completely; “my main challenge was figuring out how to keep the kids moving without team or whole class activities due to the restrictions. We focus on individual skill work and small groups this year.” She’s also had to incorporate more technology into her curriculum working to find exercise videos directed towards children to use when all of her students were remote.

When her students are in person she faces a new challenge, having enough equipment; “my solution is to have one class do an activity with bean bags and then have the next class use balls because after each class is done I have to use sanitizer on whatever we used and it has to dry for the next class. It took a while to get into a pattern but now it’s smooth sailing for me and the kids.”

The isolation caused by the pandemic has impacted Sollenberger both personally and professionally. She has a lot of family still in the Brimfield/Peoria area and will not see them over the holidays and misses them greatly. Professionally, she struggled when Cambridge Schools were closed for five week at the beginning of the school year and the day the students returned was one of Sollenberger’s favorite moments; “it was so great seeing all of the kids' smiling faces again.

Ms S. would like the parents of her students to know she has worked very hard to keep their kids exercising and will continue to provide a fun learning experience for the kids even if physical education looks very different this year.

Ms S.’s wish for 2021? “My hope is for a happier and healthier America and to get back to some sort of normalcy.” We all do Ms. S!

Above and Beyond The Classroom: A series focusing on teaching during a pandemic:

“I have learned to be more flexible,” Cambridge Junior High Language Arts teacher Sunny Letterle reflects on the past nine months, “I roll with the punches and go with the flow. I can’t get hung up when things do not go as planned. Nothing in teaching is planned in 2020.”

Letterly has been in teaching for fifteen years, twelve of them in Cambridge after graduating Cum Laude from Western Illinois University. She is originally from Plainfield, Illinois. In addition to Language Arts she is in charge of the yearbook, coaches speech, and works in the AIM program.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented Letterle with a number of challenges primarily motivating her students to see the value of education; “I know that not every student will go to college, but completing high school is still very important, the skills we teach will have value in their everyday lives.” She also wants to leave her students with a good work ethic, “D’s get degrees” is a common saying with students today but I want them to know that good old fashioned hard work still matters. This is compounded by having to teach through a computer at times; “It is difficult to make connections through a computer, especially with students that don’t participate in discussions. Our education system works best when students are here. I really wish all students would return to school.”

One of the things Letterle has picked up from the pandemic is the importance of teamwork; “I’m definitely not very technologically savvy so I’ve had to reach out to my coworkers for support and guidance.”

The pandemic has impacted Ms. Letterle, “Some days are definitely better than others. Coming to school each day helps. Also, I was blessed to gain more time with my college-aged daughter. Raina attends Haverford College in Philadelphia, so having her home has brought us closer together. This is time I wouldn't have had with her otherwise. It is precious to me.”

Ms. Letterle was thrilled when her students returned after the late August shutdown of Cambridge Schools. One of her best moments was when the students returned on October 5th. “Students should be at school. It is better for their grades since there is more accountability, but most importantly, it is better for their social-emotional well-being. Students will get the full effect of what Cambridge Jr/Sr High School has to offer.